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Railroad Company Fined by OSHA for Firing Whistleblowers

News reports broke today of a huge Occupational Safety and Health Administration ruling against a major railroad company, and we thought our readers in Texas may be interested in hearing about it. According to a report from Bloomberg, OSHA has ordered Norfolk Southern Railway Co. to pay $1.1 million in fines for violating the federal agency's rules.

While most OSHA violations we hear about relate directly to worker injury or an unsafe work environment, this situation was a little different. In 2007, the Federal Railroad Safety Act's whistleblower rules were moved under OSHA's jurisdiction. Since 2007, 60 percent of the 1,200 whistleblower complaints have been related to employers firing workers who have reported injuries sustained on the job. That is exactly what happened in the case of Norfolk Southern.

According to OSHA, Norfolk Southern wrongfully fired three of its employees after they reported injuries that occurred at their workplaces. In the first case, a crane operator told his employer of an injury he sustained that required him to have rusted metal removed from his eye. Norfolk Southern fired him, alleging that he wasn't telling the truth. In the second case, a welder and welder's assistant sought medical attention after being involved in an accident while driving a company vehicle. Again, Norfolk Southern accused them of reporting falsehoods and fired them both. In both of these cases, OSHA investigations determined that the workers were fired primarily because they reported their injuries. Norfolk Southern has denied the ruling and plans to appeal.

Unfortunately, some employers care more about maintaining a good reputation than keeping their employees safe, as this case clearly shows. However, workers have the right to report injuries they sustain at work without fearing that they will lose their jobs. Hopefully this case will encourage other employers to adhere to OSHA's rules for protecting workers.

Source: Bloomberg, "OSHA Orders $1.1 Million in Damages Against Norfolk After FRSA Complaints," Michael Bologna, March 7, 2013

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